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The Shadow Traps

Author: Irfan Shah

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In October 1888, the French inventor Louis Le Prince shot what many people now believe to be the world’s first films. On the 16th September 1890, and just before he was due to sail to New York to demonstrate his films in public for the first time, Le Prince boarded the Dijon to Paris train and was never seen again.The Shadow Traps podcasts will tell the story of Le Prince, his life, his films and his mysterious disappearance. It is a mystery story, an exploration of invention and obsession and a love letter to film. To find out more and support this podcast, go to
41 Episodes



Researcher and writer Irfan Shah introduces the new podcast series, The Shadow Traps, which will explore and celebrate the story of Louis Le Prince and will investigate the inventor's mysterious disappearance in 1890.
This is the opening episode of The Shadow Traps podcast series. It will give an overview of the story, looking at Le Prince's life, films and mysterious disappearance on September 16th 1890. There will be clues and theories scattered throughout the episode, as well as stories from the earliest days of film. It is a labour of love, researched over the past seven years and lasting just over an hour and a half. It will set up listeners for the adventures ahead!
In this episode of The Shadow Traps, we look at unreliable narrators and the question of fake news in our retellings of past events. We will expose the flaws in two of the theories related to Le Prince's disappearance and we will challenge the listeners' notions of what to believe when listening to this podcast series. We will also begin a more detailed biography of Le Prince's life, starting with his birth in France and ending with his move to England in 1866.And having done all this, we will replace one of the discredited theories with a new one......
This episode is a continuation of the biography of Le Prince, starting with Le Prince's move from France to Leeds, England in 1866. We will see him establish a life in the town, which is interrupted by the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, which sees him return to Paris to rescue his relatives. We will look at his imprisonment during the chaos of the war and his time spent as a medical officer during the vicious Siege of Paris. 
A short description of the fall of Paris is followed by a look at how much we can learn from a few brief pieces of primary source material. Taking a handful of brief newspaper articles from 1870, the episode looks at the different ways of pulling them apart and using them to help our understanding not just of Le Prince's wartime misadventures but of his later work with film cameras.
This episode starts with a look at a French newspaper report which may offer clues to help us better understand the identity of the German-accented stranger mentioned in an earlier article. In exploring this point, we will discuss the idea of 'confirmation bias'.We will then move from France to Leeds and look at the turbulent business years of Whitley Partners as well as learning of some of Le Prince's own financial commitments. We will see a story of apparent success but also of disputes and financial instability.
What is a motion picture camera? And how could the film pioneers know what film might mean to the world?Le Prince, back in Leeds, but weakened by his time in Paris during the Siege, is persuaded to withdraw from Whitley Partners and start an art school with Lizzie. The school is a great success and work from it is exhibited in many conversaziones for societies such as the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society. The episode will look at Le Prince's life  during the 1870's and explore how it might have come to shape his later ideas on what film might mean to society.The episode will suggest that Le Prince, the film maker, would be one of the last great Victorian collectors.
Episode 7. 1875

Episode 7. 1875


The contrasting fortunes of the Le Princes and John Whitley are looked at. Louis, with a growing family and a successful art school, has put down roots in the town of Leeds. John Whitley, on the other hand, experiences business failures that will see him have to 'disappear' from the town.And an odd inconsistency in the story of Le Prince is revealed. Why has Le Prince's biographer put 1875 down as the year in which he discovered the work of Edweard Muybridge. 1875, a year of contrasting fortunes and of clues.
1876. Le Prince becomes a Freemason and moves into 33 Park Square, a house that will be filled with happy memories for him and also, where he will begin experiments in photography that will lead towards his work in motion pictures.The year 1876 also sees a patent for a motion picture camera from another inventor with Leeds connections - a patent which leaves us with more questions than answers...
From a brief look at the influence of the Third Estate on society, the episode proceeds to a brief history of film based on the epic yet unpublished book '25,000 Years to Trap a Shadow' written by our 'esteemed adversary and fellow pilgrim' Will Day.
We continue to move through the 1870's, looking at Le Prince's career as an artist and teacher, and his continued connection with the struggling Whitley foundry. We also look at how Le Prince came to have a piece of work placed underneath the famous Cleopatra's Needle in London.
Episode 11. Outlines

Episode 11. Outlines


We will look at the idea that Louis Le Prince may have known or  been friends with one of Leeds' most celebrated artists, John Atkinson Grimshaw, whose paintings of Whitby may have inspired Bram Stoker's novel 'Dracula'. We will see how Grimshaw - and other artists - used photography to help them with their art, and will see how Irfan Shah almost got his hands on Grimshaw's photographic cloud studies. What part does photography play in art? And how can we trace an outline of our subject, Le Prince, through speculative research?
A decade and a half after first meeting, John Robinson Whitley and Louis Le Prince continue their adventures together when they travel across the Atlantic Ocean to America. John Whitley has a new business venture and takes his brother-in-law, Le Prince along with him. But why would Le Prince leave Leeds? And why trust the reckless and excitable Whitley?
We take a walk up Broadway to explore the town that was now home to John Whitley and Louis Le Prince. What can we learn from looking at Union Square, where John's Lincrusta Walton showroom was situated? How were the two voyagers going to be shaped by the sights and sounds of Broadway?
In 1881, Le Prince was newly arrived in New York and preoccupied with establishing a new life and a new business there. Also in 1881, some of the world's greatest scientists were already busy working on the capture of motion pictures. By looking at the work of Eadweard Muybridge, Etienne Jules Marey and Pierre Jules Cesar Janssen, we can see just how much progress had been made in the field of chronophotography and how determined Le Prince would have to be to be able to catch and compete with them.
A recap of the story so far leads us to an account of how John Whitley's new venture fared in New York, followed by a trip out West to San Diego. Meanwhile, in Leeds, Lizzie is facing her own problems and waiting for a visit from her husband. After bringing the while family over to New York, Lizzie and Louis take a look at their new home.Lizzie finds work and is helped by Louis at the New York Institute for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb.
We use our information on the Le Princes' experiences with the Lincrusta-Walton wallpaper process to try and help us understand what their attitudes to film might have been. How could this work? Because the nineteenth century saw a change in the way Art was produced and experienced and it started with the most unassuming of forms. The decorative arts underwent a transformation because of the industrial processes that became available and as a result of the swathes of mechanically reproduced pieces that appeared, there was a debate about whether such products could ever be art, or could possess real beauty. Where the Le Princes stood on this, could provide us with more clues as to who they were as people.
1882,1883. Le Prince is establishing contacts that will help him in his work with motion pictures although for now he is occupied with other tasks, while others work on their own motion picture cameras in earnest. 
The Le Princes struggling to make ends meet in New York, have left behind them more financial loose ends in Leeds. However, as one way of earning an income, Le Prince becomes involved in the creation of Cycloramas, huge 360 degree paintings that were part of the lineage of cinema. His involvement with one particular panorama will lead to him having a tiny, indirect influence on the English language itself.



The Shadow Traps has taken a very short break - a new episode is out next week. In the meantime, please consider this 'A short intermission'. 
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